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A brief history of the oldest civilization, 0 CE – today

Egypt is an ancient land with several thousand years of history. However, never in Egypt’s history has there been a greater time to visit, than 2020. That’s why your Chamber is charting a course to the Land of the Nile for a 10-day excursion in March 2020.

When most people think of Egyptian history, they picture pharaohs, pyramids, and other scenes straight from Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. But the history of Egypt did not end with Cleopatra. The Egypt you will see during our 2020 membership trip is very much a product of the last 2,000 years.

In the year 30 B.C., following Cleopatra’s suicide, Egypt was annexed by the Roman Empire, becoming the wealthiest province in the Empire outside of Italy. Egypt was ruled by Prefect (a Roman military governor), who answered directly to the emperor. Egypt’s fertile farmlands near the Nile helped supply the rest of the empire with provisions, earning the nickname “the Empire’s breadbasket”. During this time, Christianity spread through the country, resulting in the founding of the Egyptian Coptic Church and Egypt becoming one of the epicenters of the new religion.

Under Emperor Constantine I, the imperial capital moved from Rome to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey) and Christianity became legal and the official religion of the Empire. The Roman Empire formally split into Western and Eastern halves in 395 CE, with Egypt falling under the Eastern Roman Empire. Although the Western Roman Empire fell in 476 CE, the Eastern Empire survived and continued to control Egypt until 639 CE, when a vulnerable Egypt fell in the sights of the next Mediterranean imperial power: the Arabs.

Under the new Muslim rulers, Egyptians were mostly left alone. Egyptian Christians were free to practice their religion and were not required to enlist in the military, in exchange for paying the Jizya tax (a tax on non-Muslims within the Caliphate).

In 661, the Rashidun Dynasty was succeeded by the Umayyad Dynasty. During this time, Egyptians increasingly grew to use Arabic as a local language. Egyptian Arabic remains the official language of the nation to the day. Subsequent dynasties controlled the Arab World and Egypt, the most notable for the latter being the Shia Fatimid Caliphate from 969 CE to 1171 CE. The Fatimids planned and constructed a new capital city in Egypt by the name of Cairo. In present day, Cairo is the largest city in Africa and the Middle East, a busy metropolis of more than 20 million people. Cairo and its many landmarks, attractions, and amenities will be the focus of the first few days and the last few days of your Chamber’s 2020 membership trip.

After the subsequent rule of the Ayyubid Dynasty, a military caste of slaves known as the Mamluks seized control of Egypt in 1250, ruling until their decline and conquest by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Egypt suffered greatly during this time, losing 40 percent of their population to the Bubonic Plague in the 14th Century and suffering repeated famines in the following centuries.

The Ottomans temporarily lost control of Egypt in 1798 to the French, led by Napoleon Bonaparte. During this time, the French discovered the Rosetta Stone — a large inscription with text in both the ancient Egyptian language and Greek. Up until this point, scholars had no means of deciphering hieroglyphs, but with a Greek translation, Egyptian writings could now be understood in contemporary languages.

Decades later, another breakthrough occurred in Egypt with the construction of the Suez Canal. Before its completion in 1869, ships could not travel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea without circumventing all of Africa. The new passage allowed quicker transport of people and goods between Britain and France and their colonies in Asia, most notably the British Raj in India.

Egypt became a protectorate of the British Empire following the Anglo-Egyptian War in 1882, serving as Britain’s base of operations against the Ottoman Empire during World War I and then again as a major base for Allied operations during World War II. During British rule, archeologists uncovered long forgotten tombs in Egypt’s Valley of Kings, the most notable being Howard Carter’s discovery and excavation of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 and 1923. The Valley of Kings is one of several stops for Chamber travelers on the Nile River cruise. British rule came to close during the Revolution of 1952, establishing a modern republic under President Mohamed Naguib.

Four years later, Egyptian military seized the Suez Canal, which was still owned by the British Empire. This event is referred to as “the Suez Crisis.” The following year, Israel invaded Egypt and occupied the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, in what is now known as the Six-Day War. Egypt would regain Sinai during the 1973 War.

As a republic, Egypt modeled policy on the principles of Pan-Arabism and Arab Socialism. Egypt’s second president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was immensely popular for his domestic policies and fierce independent spirit. Efforts to modernize the country resulted in ambitious infrastructure projects, including the Aswan Dam — where Chamber travelers will begin their Nile River cruise.

Egypt’s relations with the United States improved greatly during the administration of American President Jimmy Carter, including the Camp David Accords in 1978 and Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979. Under Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Egypt increasingly transitioned into a free market economy and civil liberties increased. After Sadat’s assassination in 1981, Egypt was led by President Hosni Mubarak for thirty years, before his deposition during the 2011 Arab Spring.

You’ve read the history. Now it’s time to see the history. Don’t miss your chance to join us in Egypt — a land wonderfully ancient yet strikingly modern. Make plans to attend our free info session August 15 at our Northside office. For more information on how to get to Egypt in 2020, visit our event page.

This is an entry in our Egypt 2020 Membership Trip series. To read previous posts, click here.

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